This page provides a quick introduction to the basic ideas of argument visualization and to using MindMup's argument visualization mode, which you can learn more about under Software. You can find interesting arguments to practice what you learn at the bottom of this page. For more advanced lessons, look under Hints.
Reasons are the basic building blocks of arguments. Reasons aim to raise our confidence in a claim. For example, someone might say, "You shouldn't feel bad that you're going to die because death is inevitable.” Here, the claim that death is inevitable is provided as a reason to believe the conclusion that you shouldn’t feel bad about mortality.
In an argument visualization, reasons are represented using green.
Attaching a reason to a claim is easy. First, select the claim, and then hit "return"/"enter". Alternately, use the "Add reason" button on the toolbar:
Reasons can contain multiple claims
Notice that if someone said "You shouldn't feel bad that you're going to die because death is inevitable” their argument would be importantly incomplete.
The claim "Death is inevitable" only supports the conclusion "You shouldn't feel bad that you are going to die" when it is supplemented with another claim:
To add additional claims to a reason (sometimes called "co-premises"), select a claim in the reason and then hit "tab" or use the "Add sibling claim" button on the toolbar:
If some claims support a conclusion only when taken together, place them in a single reason.
In the example above, each claim must be plausible for either one to support for the conclusion.
This is important: If you didn’t believe 2.1, you wouldn’t think that 2.2 supported the conclusion, and if you didn’t believe 2.2, you wouldn’t think that 2.1 supported the conclusion. But if you believed them both, then your confidence in the conclusion would rise. That's why they must be together.
Argument visualizations also allow us to represent arguments that contain multiple independent reasons for a claim. Here is an example:
Add independent reasons to support claims just like you added the first: Select the claim you wish to support, then hit Return / Enter. Dragging one claim on top of another will cause the first to become an independent reason for the second.
Note that 2.3 could support the conclusion regardless of the truth of 2.1 and 2.2. In other words, 2.3 is an independent reason to believe the conclusion, and that is why it belongs under its own green bracket.
Test your understanding now:
Which of the two argument visualizations below best represents the following passage?
Being genetically enhanced is only beneficial if it makes you better than other people -- for example, if it makes you taller or better looking than average. But if genetic enhancement technology becomes widely available, everyone will use it, so there’s no point in pursuing genetic enhancement technology.
Objections aim to lower our confidence in a claim. Argument visualizations use red coloring to represent objections:
To add an objection, select the claim to which you wish to object and then hit "Alt+o" or use the Thumbs-down button on the tool bar. You can also toggle a reason into an objection by hitting "Alt+t" or using the "Toggle" button on the toolbar.
Notice that if you became convinced of 2.3 and 2.4 you would become less confident in the conclusion.
Apart from this one difference, objections work just like reasons.
When people present arguments in writing or speech, they sometimes acknowledge assumptions: "While several of my colleagues in Psychology have argued persuasively against Theory X, in this talk, I assume X is true." It's nice when people are clear about their assumptions, both to themselves and to their audiences. It is also quite rare. In popular media and in articles written for scientists and academics, contestable assumptions are routinely passed over in silence. An important part of improving your ability to read and evaluate argumentative texts is training yourself to detect problematic assumptions in your own and in other people's reasoning.
For example, consider again the first argument presented above: "You shouldn't feel bad that you're going to die because death is inevitable.” What does this argument assume? Plausibly, that you should never feel bad about inevitable things. Perhaps something about this assumption smells fishy to you... It's inevitable (near enough, given the laws of nature) that all sapiens will one day be extinct. Should this recognition make you feel less bad about the possibility of a meteor wiping out humankind forever? I'm inclined to say "no". Having identified an unstated assumption, we are now in a better position to make progress on evaluating the argument.
Unstated assumptions are sometimes also called "implicit claims" to contrast them with claims that an author explicitly makes by writing them down or saying them out loud.
MindMup allows you to visually mark unstated assumptions (sometimes called "implicit co-premises") by making the border around the claim box dashed. For example, see Claim 2.2:
To mark a claim as implicit, select that claim and then hit Option+t or us the "Toggle" button on the toolbar:
MindMup doesn't attempt to assess your arguments, but it does allow you to represent your rough sense of how convincing their various inferences are, especially in relation to each other. Consider the arguments given above for the claim that you shouldn’t feel bad that you are going to die. Perhaps you think that Claim 2.3 supports the conclusion more strongly than the reason consisting of Claims 2.1 and 2.2. You can represent this by thickening the connecting line between 2.3 and the conclusion:
To change the thickness of a connecting line, click it and then select "Stronger" or "Weaker".
Objecting to whole reasons/TRANSITIONS
Sometimes an argument is no good, but not because it contains a false claim. Consider this example:
As the word "law" is used in physics, Claim 2.1 is certainly plausible. But what about 2.2? You might be tempted to respond to this argument: "Sure, if you're talking about human laws—e.g., laws about how fast people may drive on highways—the existence of a law implies the existence of a law giver. (In this case, it implies the existence of someone or something to decide how fast people may drive.) But if we're talking about laws of nature, it's much less clear that laws imply law givers." This suggests an objection to the inference that we can represent like this:
To object to a whole reason (as opposed to a single claim), select the green bracket and hit Alt+O or use the thumbs-down button on the toolbar.
The red bar is placed under the green bracket to represent that Claim 2.3 objects to the inference rather than the truth of any particular claim.
Here's another way to represent roughly the same thing:
Notice that the border around Claim 2.3 is dashed to indicate that this claim is assumed by the argument but not stated by the author.
In this visualization, instead of attaching my objection to the inference directly, I've supplied an unstated assumption. This assumption introduces a kind of self-reference into the argument, since Claim 2.3 concerns the meanings of claims in the very argument of which it is a part. This allows us to represent an objection to the inference as an objection to the truth of a specific claim.
Students seem to prefer this approach, but I prefer the earlier one. The visual approach uses a distinct convention to represent the logical difference between (a) objecting to an inference from a set of one or more claims and (b) objecting to some particular claim. This logical distinction deserves to be marked by its own visual convention. (If you're interested to think about why, see Lewis Carroll's 1895 article, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles".)
Practice with multi-choice-guided visualization problems
For extra practice with the basics of argument visualization, you may wish to attempt some of the exercises embedded below.
Begin by selecting an argument from the list. They are ordered by difficulty from Level 1 - 4, with 1 being the easiest. Begin by copying the text of the argument into a MindMup file and analyzing the argument for yourself using the conventions explained above. Once you're satisfied with your work, go back to the multiple-choice exercise and work through the questions, using them to check your work. Once you have finished the questions in a particular exercise, the suggested solution will be fully revealed.
When your own work disagrees with the solution, make sure you understand where you went wrong: These exercises are only beneficial when you reflect on the feedback.
Note: Due to a Google update, these exercises are temporarily unavailable. Some may be temporarily accessible at https://phillmaps-exercise.munggulk.my.id